Every state has a time limit for bringing a medical malpractice case. Often, different states have different time limits. The limitation on the time period in which you can bring a medical malpractice suit is called the statute of limitations. This means that once the statute of limitations has passed, you cannot file a legal action against the medical staff or facilities that treated you.
Often, the statute of limitations is between 1 and 3 years from the date of injury, depending on the state. This is the date that the negligent treatment occurred, but a statute of limitations is also frequently broken up into parts and those parts may have exceptions. The two most common parts are the date of discovery, which is subject to the continuous treatment doctrine, and the statute of repose, which is not.
The date of discovery part of the statute of limitations is a time limit that starts counting down only from the time a victim of medical malpractice becomes aware of an injury. For example, if you had a piece of medical hardware left in your body after a surgery, but you did not experience any symptoms for 1 year, the time limit to bring a medical malpractice claim would only start counting down when you were made aware of the hardware left in your body. Sometimes, however, there are exceptions to this time limit.
One of the most common exceptions is called the continuous treatment doctrine, mentioned above. The continuous treatment doctrine is an exception for people who received continuous follow-up treatment from the same doctor who made the original medical error. It is an important exception because victims of medical malpractice are not expected to sue the doctor who is treating them at the time, since this could prompt them to discontinue or provide substandard treatment. Therefore, the continuous treatment doctrine delays the countdown of the statute of limitations until the victim no longer receives continued treatment from the responsible doctor. If you or a patient receives treatment for the same problem from a new doctor, the continuous treatment doctrine stops applying and the countdown for the statute of limitations begins. This countdown begins even if you were to go back to the doctor who made the original mistake.
The statute of repose is the maximum amount of time that can pass before you are no longer allowed to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. This limits your ability to bring a lawsuit even if you have not discovered the injury, and even if you have been receiving continued treatment from the responsible doctor. Usually, the statute of repose is 5 to 7 years, but in some states it can be as short as 3 years.
Because of these time limitations, it is important to have your case evaluated as quickly as possible. Even if you don’t have all the medical records or other relevant information, understanding the statute of limitations is often the first step to finding out if you have a potential lawsuit.